The Legal Services Board (LSB), Law Society and Bar Council have thrown their weight behind a best practice code aimed at stamping out bias in granting internships and improving social mobility for disadvantaged students.
The move precedes the LSB’s publication of findings from its consultation on diversity and social mobility, which is due later this month.
In a separate development, the LSB’s chairman David Edmonds has criticised the idea of restricting access to barristers’ training courses to deal with a crisis in numbers of graduates who are failing to obtain pupillages.
The Common best practice code for high-quality internships was developed by the government-backed Gateways to the Professions Collaborative Forum, which represents around 60 professional bodies and related organisations. The LSB, Law Society and Bar Council are all members.
The code “aims to signal a collective commitment from our members to ensure that the internships we provide are transparent and open to all, irrespective of background”. It covers such matters as recruitment, induction, treatment, supervision, and payment of interns.
Academic research has shown that students with connections to the legal profession are twice as likely to have secured work experience at an early stage than those without. Other research revealed that those who had done relevant vacation work boosted their chances of winning a training contract at a solicitors’ firm by 20% over those who had not.
LSB chief executive Chris Kenny said legal services regulators should embrace the code, adding: “It is crucial that access to these opportunities is not based on personal connections but on a transparent and fair recruitment process. It is equally important that internships carry with them appropriate remuneration, so that they are not just the preserve of those who can afford to work for nothing.”
The code was published at the launch event of Professions for Good, an organisation which aims to improve the public perception of the professions, and includes the Law Society and Bar Council among its members. Social mobility and fair access to the professions are its first campaign issue. Legal Futures broke the news of the creation of Professions for Good in February.
Mr Edmonds expressed disapproval of any measure to restrict access to barristers’ training at the recent monthly meeting of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), to which senior LSB officials were invited.
During a debate on social mobility – in which it emerged that the 1,700 students currently on the bar professional training course will be chasing around 400 pupillages – he said his “instinctive view” was that “you should not restrict people from going into training in an area of life that they feel they have an aptitude for”. Market forces would ultimately determine the outcome, Mr Edmonds added.
According to the BSB’s head of strategy and communications, Amanda Thompson, the main problem was that unlike the various branches of the medical profession, the Bar has no way of matching graduates to employment opportunities.
She said the number of students was “enormous” and the availability of pupillages “correspondingly tiny”, adding: “We have no power to prevent the Bar school providers from qualifying these people with absolutely no expectation of jobs.”
Peter Lodder, the Bar Council chairman, told the meeting the Bar had to balance encouraging candidates across a wide range of backgrounds to seek to qualify as barristers, “but not encouraging them so much that they develop a false set of expectations about what they might achieve”.
Some chambers specialising in publicly-funded work considered it a “responsible act” not to take on pupils when the work was not there, he reported.